Vehicle Overview
Hyundai's most popular model slots between the subcompact Accent and the midsize Sonata in both size and price. Revisions to the sheet metal and interior marked the 2004 models. A new instrument cluster was installed, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gained continuously variable valve timing.

Four-door sedans are available in GLS and Limited trim levels, while the hatchback comes in GLS and GT versions. New for 2006, the Limited sedan includes beige leather seating surfaces and woodgrain interior decoration. An automatic transmission is standard on the Limited, which also includes fog lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and chrome-insert bodyside moldings. A new Premium Package that's available for all models includes a power moonroof, antilock brakes and traction control.

Strong character lines highlight the Elantra, which features styling that's more chiseled and European than earlier models. The Elantra rides a 102.7-inch wheelbase, measures 178 inches long overall, stands 56.1 inches tall and stretches nearly 68 inches wide. GT models have a body-colored rear lip spoiler. A moonroof is optional. The Limited features a chrome vertical-bar grille.

Elantra GT models have a tauter suspension with higher-rate springs, gas-filled shock absorbers and larger-diameter stabilizer bars. All-disc brakes, fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels are installed.

Each Elantra seats up to five people. A three-place 60/40-split, folding rear seat augments the sedan's trunk space, which totals 12.9 cubic feet. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a CD player, cruise control, a tilt steering column, a rear defogger, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Remote keyless entry includes an alarm.

A unique instrument panel in GT models holds purple-lit VDO gauges. The GT features gray leather seating surfaces and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Under the Hood
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers each Elantra. In states with Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle requirements, the engine develops an estimated 132 horsepower, but it's rated at 138 hp in other areas. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard, and a four-speed-automatic transmission is optional.

Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard, and antilock brakes are available.

Driving Impressions
Even though the Elantra isn't overly enticing initially, it tends to grow on an open-minded driver and turns into an appealing little automobile. Performance with the manual transmission is surprisingly frisky, and the Elantra accelerates with spirit. Well matched to the engine, the gearbox and clutch permit gentle engagement for easy takeoffs. But putting it into Reverse can be a chore at times.

Except for a slight growl during acceleration, the Elantra is quiet on the road. It whips through corners with ease; some body lean is evident, but not enough to be troubling. Its suspension copes adeptly with rough spots, so the Elantra's ride is pleasantly smooth for a small car.

Attractive seats are firmly cushioned and offer very good back support. Backseat legroom is amazing, and even the center rear position isn't too bad.

Handling is a bit tauter on the fun-to-drive GT, and ride comfort suffers only modestly. The GT's gauges are large, but their distinctive purple hue isn't the easiest to read at night.